Broad Run sophomore Kim Vargas is already thinking about next basketball season, and perhaps a state tournament berth, after the Spartans reached their first region tournament in school history this season.

One thing, however, is certain: At this time next year, neither Broad Run nor any other team will be in the state tournament. Starting next season, all Virginia girls' basketball teams will play in the winter, and their seasons will begin in December.

A court decision in July 2000 mandated that the Virginia High School League align its seasons in all classifications for all sports.

Girls' basketball has been a fall sport for smaller schools in Groups A or AA but a winter sport in Group AAA. Tennis and volleyball had similar schedule discrepancies, but those were ruled violations of Title IX, which prohibits federally funded institutions from providing unequal accommodations based on sex. Boys' teams in the state, regardless of school size, play sports seasons concurrently.

Although area girls will be able to play during basketball's traditional season and no longer watch the rest of the Washington area compete in winter, changing seasons has disadvantages.

"I like the fall," Vargas said, "because during the summer, you're playing basketball and then you go right into basketball season. Plus, playing in the winter, you have to compete with the guys."

Although football commands the greatest attention among fall sports, girls' basketball teams have had gymnasiums to themselves, allowing unlimited and unfettered practice time. Girls' basketball has been the only indoor fall sport.

"The only thing I don't like about playing in the winter is gym time," Stone Bridge Coach Mike Benson said. "In the fall, it's my gym."

In the winter, girls' basketball teams will share court space with the boys' teams or younger players.

"In the summer, you don't have to compete for the gym," Liberty junior Ryan Washington said. "Our freshman and JV teams will probably now have to practice together."

More importantly, however, girls' basketball now must compete with the boys for attention. Girls and boys will play on the same days, Tuesday and Friday, and against common opponents.

"The worst thing about it is that we'll go against the boys," Loudoun County junior Whitney Knudsen said. "I think we'll lose some fans. Maybe we'll just have to be better to keep them."

The winter season is likely to encourage more participation on AAU teams. Even though many girls play in summer leagues to prepare for the fall season, some will now join a fall league to maintain playing shape.

Fall also tended to sneak up on players and force them to start the season before they were fully conditioned. Summer jobs or vacations occasionally have prevented players from starting practice in early August.

When the season begins next December, everyone will be in school and could have been participating in weight training and conditioning throughout fall. However, some players said they enjoyed being able to walk into the gym any time in August simply to shoot around.

"The advantage is we can get into a fall league and maybe play against some AAA teams," Benson said. "The good thing is that we're coming back faster and stronger. I think we'll be in shape two weeks earlier than we were this year."

Playing in the winter will undoubtedly help girls who aspire to college basketball. Although some have said playing in fall benefits those players because they are not competing for attention with as many others, college coaches seldom recruit in the fall season, choosing instead to scout winter and summer seasons.

"I think what I'm finding out is that most of them told me, 'I forgot you played in the fall,' " Benson said.

Added Vargas: "If you're looking to be recruited, it's definitely better to be playing in the winter."

Broad Run's Kim Vargas, with the ball, said she would rather have basketball season in the fall.